exosphere

exosphere

[ek-soh-sfeer]
exosphere: see atmosphere.
The exosphere is the uppermost layer of the atmosphere. On Earth, its lower boundary at the edge of the thermosphere is estimated to be 500 km to 1000 km above the Earth's surface, and its upper boundary at about 10,000 km. It is only from the exosphere that atmospheric gases, atoms, and molecules can, to any appreciable extent, escape into space. The main gases within the exosphere are the lightest gases, mainly hydrogen, with some helium, carbon dioxide, and atomic oxygen near the exobase. The exosphere is the last layer before space.

Exobase, also called the critical level, the lowest altitude of the exosphere, is defined in one of two ways:

  1. The height above which there are negligible atomic collisions between the particles and
  2. The height above which the constituent atoms are on purely ballistic trajectories.

At the exobase, the mean free path of a molecule is equal to one pressure scale height. As the pressure scale height is almost equal to the density scale height of the primary constituent, and since the Knudsen number is the ratio of mean free path and typical density fluctuation scale, this means that the exobase lies in the region where mathrm{Kn}(h_{EB}) simeq 1.

References

Gerd W. Prolss: Physics of the Earth's Space Environment: An Introduction. ISBN 3540214267

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